May 27, 2006

No hay escándalo que dure dos días...

I start looking through the opposition press this morning thinking, "hmmmmm, I wonder what else they have on the LVA meta-scandal?"

System boot.

Click, click.

Funny - it's off El Universal's front page.

Ok, maybe El Nacional...nope, tiny little refrito of Jesse Chacon's lame declaration.

Union Radio, then? Nope, just Chavez ranting about rivers of blood bla bla bla...

Ermmm...I know: Globo! Nope, it's the ULA riots there.

Harumph...maybe...Descifrado? Blimey, even they've lost interest...

I start to scrape the bottom of the barrel...Notitarde? Nope. El Carabobeño? Nope. Ultimas Noticias? Nope. (God, this is getting really desperate.) Correo del Caroni? Nope. El Mundo? Sidestory.

Jesus, only Venezuelanalysis is giving anything like high billing to the meta-scandal, with a hilariously naive, heavily sanitized, 48 hour old piece (storyline: corrupt magistrate gets his comeupance!)

I find it staggering, but the LVA incriminate-a-thon was a one-day story!

How is that possible? After years and years of speculation and allegations about government meddling in the judicial system, about Gangster Midgets and vicepresidential hairy hands in the Anderson case, after sooo much wondering about what was behind Nicolas Maduro's attacks on Judge María Alejandra Rivas, after all that finally we get an insider who comes out and just hands us the Roseta Stone to kleptobolivarianismo's methods and allignments and the papers lose interest after all of one news cycle?!?

I seriously don't get it. Where are the exposés on Julio Makarem and Pedro Torres Ciliberto? Where are the photo-essays documenting Arné Chacón's lifestyle? Where is the basic curiosity you'd think would push any normal journalist to look into Belkys Cedeño's influence? Are these guys just tarados? Are their editors THAT intimidated? Or has the level of scandal fatigue reached such an extreme that really nobody cares? That it really just isn't news? I can't piece it together...

Quinto Dia to the rescue
The only half-way serious reporting of the behind-the-scenes intrigues of the LVA meta-scandal comes in this Quinto Día piece attributed to a "J.L. Hernández." By his reckoning, the whole thing comes down to the ongoing fight within chavismo between Pedro Carreño's faction and Nicolas Maduro's.

Velásquez Alvaray, himself a Carreño man, had been struggling for control over the court system with Maduro's protegé, Belkys Cedeño, who heads the Caracas Court Circuit. You might remember Belkys Cedeño as the judge who infamously ordered the TSJ's press room shut down and had Judge María Mercedes Prado tossed out of the building to stop her making embarrassing declarations about the reasons she was fired. Prado, incidentally, had been in charge of the explosive (literally) case of the bombing of the Spanish and Colombian diplomatic missions in Caracas back in february 2003. (A signature Helmeyer/Del Nogal hit...but here I really digress...)

According to Hernández, Chávez dithered over which side to back until one of LVA's underlings tried to shore up his own position by currying favor directly with Chávez's mom. This sent Chávez into a fury and sealed the maneouver to purge LVA and his people from the tribunal.

With LVA out of the way, Belkys Cedeño - who has some 60 official complaints lodged against her, and is now the odds on favorite to be the mysterious "La Donna" supposedly heading the Band of Midgets - consolidates the Maduro Faction's ascendancy over the judicial branch. Cedeño, who has a long and malodorous Google Trail, is one of these chavista judges who mysteriously keeps getting picked "by lottery" to rule on very high profile, politically sensitive cases.

Part of what's valuable about LVA's supercharged press conference is that it allows us to start piecing together the always-murky map of who's on whose "team" in the chavista faction wars. We start to get a sense that Maduro and Jesse Chacón head a faction with deep tentacles in the Caracas courts, including Cedeño and Maikel Moreno, the support of TSJ head Omar Mora Diaz, close money links with Jesse Chacón's brother and Pedro Torres Ciliberto, but also financed by Julio Makarem of the NAOR/Vatramafia fame.

Intriguing side-show: in the second recording LVA presented at his dynamite press conference, Judge Rivas says Makarem was actually the go-between sent by Belkys Cedeño to rope her into a conspiracy to implicate first Alberto Federico Ravell (for trying to bribe her) and then Luis Velásquez Alvaray himself. Rivas, who refused to play along, is now paying the price: she's been charged with corruption by the the Prosecutor General's Office.

Unfortunately, since defenestrated Maduro man Jesús Caldera Infante did not defend himself by spilling the beans on the Carreño faction, we don't have a comparable sense of the who's who in the "Barinas Group."

Admittedly the second chunk of this post is just a concatenation of rumors and more-or-less likely conjectures, and more than obviously a single damn blogger in Europe does not have the means to piece this whole complicated puzzle together. Now if Venezuelan journos could FOCUS on this story for more than one news cycle at a time, we might collaboratively figure out how this story whole thing hangs together.

May 26, 2006

The Meta-scandal that all the little scandals fit into...

Wow. Just wow. In the time it takes to give a single, nitro-charged press conference, the Luis Velásquez Alvaray Affaire has morphed into the Mother of All Scandals, the Meta-scandal that all the little scandals fit into. The LVA Affaire is to Chavez-era scandals what Ronaldinho is to football. You can blog for years waiting for a story like this to break. When it does, it's so rich, so multilayered, you barely know where to start digging into it. Just wow...

First off, it's now clear that, as head of the Judicial System's Managing Authority (DEM), Magistrate Velásquez Alvaray had access to a motherload of compromising information about regime higher ups. Much of it is in the form of audio tapes - the first two of which he played at the red hot press conference he called yesterday. It's also clear that he's willing to make a lot of the remaining tapes public if the regime keeps investigating him.

This situation provides a rare window into the inner workings of the bolikleptocracy. In the absence of working institutional mechanisms for accountability and transparency, big dust-ups between insiders become the only way we get a chance to peer into the opaque inner workings of the regime.

Among the minor jewels of yesterday's incendiary press conference, Velásquez Alvaray asked why there has been no investigation on the sudden wealth of a number of regime financiers, including Pedro Torres Ciliberto, Arné Chacón, Maikel Moreno and...wait for it...Julio Makarem. That's right, Mr. Makarem of North American Opinion Research fame, the guy who took out a giant full-page ad to threaten and intimidate Alek Boyd and the rest of us for writing about NAOR, is apparently one of the major regime money-men...and to think we doubted his polls!

But that's just one of the less explosive bits out yesterday's Superfly-Motherfuckin'-TNT of a press conference. LVA went on to confirm, again, that the court system is controlled by the "Band of Midgets" - or, erm, the height challenged - with strong links to drug trafficking and at the very least the tacit support of Vicepresident JVR, National Assembly Chair Nicolás Maduro, and Interior Minister Jesse Chacón. The official line, incidentally, is still that all this stuff about Midget Judges is a kind of urban legend.

I think the point-of-no-return was reached when Velásquez Alvaray took aim directly at Vicepresident José Vicente Rangel - the power behind Chávez's throne, and a guy who's increasingly looking like our little, home-raised Montesinos.

After playing a taped phone call where chavista convicted-murderer-turned-judge Maikel Moreno asks the head of the Supreme Tribunal's Penal Hall for a drug trafficker's release on behalf of "el vice," and another of Rangel himself trying to get a "loose canon" judge taken off of the Danilo Anderson murder "investigation", Velásquez Alvaray asked, "rhetorically," why it might be that Rangel is so single-mindedly concerned with the Anderson case.

He didn't quite say it, but a buen entendedor pocas palabras. Even at this late stage, LVA is still playing this sordid little game of implicit blackmail, mixing in serious allegations with broad hints at much worse stuff to come. At his Improvised Explosive Device of a press conference, the guy danced very close to the edge of a very deep precipice, signalling his willingness to incriminate the VP in the most sensational murder of Venezuela's recent history.

My sense is that he's already gone too far to pull back: Rangel just can't go easy on a guy who's said the things LVA's said, and anyone who's seen The Godfather understands why. But then, the gangland-calculus may not be all that clear for Rangel. Yesterday Velásquez Alvaray said he had "many more recordings" and added explicitly that even if he's killed the remaining audio tapes will come out. LVA has learned the lessons of the Anderson Case well - had he taken that basic precaution, Danilo might still be among us.

Rangel is in a difficult position: he can't be sure what's on the remaining tapes, how much damage they could do, or if they even exist. Maybe it's just a bluff, maybe LVA played his best tapes yesterday to try to psych them out into thinking there's worse to come. Or maybe LVA is sitting on some sort of a smoking-gun tape linking JVR directly with the Anderson Case. Who can tell?

Those are, of course, imponderables. What we do know is that the LVA Meta-scandal is becoming the Venezuelan equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act. All the information coming out is stuff we've presumed existed for years but had no way of accessing. Only when the internecine squabbling between chavista factions gets really really hairy does stuff like this see the light of day. And then, amid the fury of back-and-forth accusations, we get to cash in. Finally we get some sort of handle on the behind-the-scenes intrigues that are the bread-and-butter of intra-regime politics, but which are hidden from public scrutiny in the usual run of affairs.

Eva Golinger had FOIA, we have LVA...

May 25, 2006

TSJ Justice Velásquez turns up the heat in Bolivarian corruption scandal

Katy says: Supreme Tribunal justice and former chavista congressman Luis Velásquez Alvaray (LVA), who was one of the main architects of last year's Supreme Tribunal Law that gave the government the power to pack the courts, has been suspended pending an investigation into alleged corruption. Today, LVA shot back at the government in a press conference chock-full of incandescent allegations and promises of more to come. What follows is a translation of the Globovisión note on the press conference.
"Supreme Tribunal magistrate Luis Velásquez Alvaray shot back claims and allegations, following his suspension from the tribunal imposed by the Republican Moral Council. He regretted, he said, that "one of the watchdogs of the Constitution had violated it through and through, as I am about to show." He also accused Vice-president José Vicente Rangel, Interior Minister Jesse Chacón and National Assembly President Nicolás Maduro of plotting to install "chavismo without Chávez" and of wanting to exclude him from the Judicial Branch so they can "keep abusing their power."

He stated that the campaign against him began with the (murdered prosecutor Danilo) Anderson case, and that it is being orchestrated by Rangel, Chacón, Maduro, and judges Belkys Cedeño and Maikel Moreno.

"Why is Rangel so interested in the Anderson case? Why don't they investigate that more? Everything related to the Anderson case is being hidden from the public", said Velásquez. He said he did not know why they were so keen on hiding everything related to the case, "but Rangel is related to every instance that the Anderson case touches."

He did not wish to state that Rangel was the leader of the "band of midgets," but he did affirm that Rangel knows who its members are, and as proof he played an alleged recording of judge Maikel Moreno asking the president of the Penal Hall of the Supreme Tribunal to acquit a person "convicted of drug-smuggling felonies."

Velásquez also played a recording of judge Alejandra Rivas. Velásquez affirmed that Rangel told him she was partial and demanded Rivas be removed from her post, but Velásquez declined to do so after investigating her and concluding she was an honest judge. Velásquez also stated that he will continue making his allegations, saying "if they want to kill me, go right ahead," and claiming he had "many more recordings."

With the Constitution and a crucifix in his hand, he swore "to the country that I have never engaged in acts of corruption against the State. I have never allowed it, nor will I ever." He said Interior Minister Chacón's allegations against him were "moronic" and that the Republican Moral Council has been "blatantly lying" to the country.

Velásquez reproached the Moral Council for having given Chacón 10 days to clarify his allegations, while his own right to self-defense has been over-ridden. He says the Moral Council "makes up deadlines that do not exist, and I was given only eight days to defend myself." He said the Interior Minister "fabricated" evidence, and called his suspension, announced yesterday by the Prosecutor General, the Comptroller General and the People's Ombudsman, "the circus of the year."

He stated that he will not leave the country and that he will prove his innocence. "We will fight to the end because it is not about me, it is about the constitutionality [sic]. The government has to think about what its Interior Minister, and now the Republican Moral Council, did. They are attempting a political murder."

Podcast: Fecal Matter-Ventilation Equipment Collision Chronicles...

The "Republican" (ha!) "Moral" (guffaw!) Council has suspended Luis Velásquez Alvaray from the Supreme Tribunal...incrimination counteroffensive imminent...kick back and enjoy the show...

May 24, 2006

Shoe on the Other Foot Chronicles

After years and years of broadly sympathetic coverage, the New York Times' Juan Forero writes a mildly critical piece on Chavez amazing backfiring hemispheric strategy and guess who doesn't like it one bit...

Then, the opposition wins a couple of mayoral by-elections in Miranda State and guess who starts calling for a manual count...

May 23, 2006

"Rumours that I am directing a film about the 2002 coup in Venezuela are untrue and unfounded."

The other day, when Chavez announced Oliver Stone would direct a film about the 2002 April Crisis, my first reaction "well, the guy is the perfect choice - Hollywoodizing a jumble fact and fiction for obscure political purposes is what he's all about...Chavez'll love it..."

But then, Stone has been moving towards the more conventional gringo-jingoistic pap that sells at the box office, so maybe this one's not so surprising after all:
Oliver Stone has denied been linked with a movie depicting the 2002 coup in Venezuela, in spite of an announcement by President Hugo Chavez.

Sheesh...where does he get this stuff?

May 21, 2006

The Messiah Thing

In London, Chávez told assorted PSFs that he intended the Bolivarian Revolution to "save the world." Yesterday, on his return, he said "the world has more and more hope in the Bolivarian Revolution." Little by little, the rhetorical field of endeavour for chavismo has shifted up a notch, from merely Latin America to the world as a whole.

Now, for years it's been clear that the guy had a bit of Messianic complex, but I'd never thought to take that literally. Alas, that's what we're dealing with now - the salvation of humanity is what he thinks this is all about.

The sheer hubris in this kind of declaration is pretty is the utter collapse in common sense it takes to fail to see it. Y'know, if alarm bells aren't going off in your head when the guy in front of you tells you he intends to save the world, you've got some growing up to do (I'm looking straight at ya, Ken...)

I mean, there's overreaching, and then there's overreaching. I think we're pretty obviously in overreaching territory here.